Giving Conservation Wings with Bronwyn Maree

Jul 2 2015

Tracy Burrows from Latest Sightings chats to Bronwyn Maree, Albatross Task Force Leader: South Africa at BirdLife South Africa to gain some insight regarding his projects, acheivements, favourite birding places and more...

TB: What projects are you currently working on, and what are your responsibilities? 
BM: I lead a team of instructors who work with fishermen to address issues relating to seabird bycatch in our local South African trawl and longline fisheries. We spend time at sea on the vessels creating awareness around the best practise measures needed to reduce bycatch, monitor the number of birds accidentally caught and on occasion do research into new devices. We work with local government to ensure that measures/devices are adopted as regulation into the fishing permits.
We have a team of people from the Ocean View Association for Persons with Disabilities who assist us in building one of the devices (bird-scaring lines) used to prevent seabird bycatch.
Public awareness is also part of our work. This is done in various forms from public talks, media releases, annual festival (Oceans of Life) to celebrate National Marine Month, occasional school programmes and various other streams.
I have recently also been tasked with assisting the Albatross Task Force in Namibia as they head towards adoption of measures into regulation to reduce seabird bycatch in their fisheries.

For more in depth background - Over half of all pelagic seabird populations are declining, particularly the albatross family with 15 of the 22 species now threatened with extinction.  The overriding threat to these graceful ocean wanderers is the accidental, yet deadly, interaction with longline and trawl fisheries that overlap with their most important foraging grounds.
In 2005, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International established the Albatross Task Force (ATF) as the world’s first international team of mitigation instructors working directly with fishermen to demonstrate best practice measures to reduce seabird bycatch. The ATF filled a critical gap that existed in translating knowledge and regulations on seabird bycatch mitigation to direct action onboard vessels.
Since implementing ATF-recommended measures, seabird mortalities have decreased by an amazing 75-95% in these fleets, resulting in tens of thousands of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered seabirds being saved each year, including Tristan, Black-browed, Indian and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses. Critically, the solutions impose negligible costs to the fishing industry without affecting operational or profitability parameters – the perfect win-win outcome.
TB: What is your favourite bird and why?
BM: Wandering Albatross – to me they are one of the ultimate birds. They travel extremely large distances (up to 10 000km to find a meal for their chick) with their (up to) 3.5 m wingspan. They tend to mate for life and do elaborate dances for the partners. I have been lucky enough to go down to Marion Island to see these birds breeding and have also seen then out at sea on occasion. The fact that they are not easily seen and many people do not ever get to see them, makes them an extra special bird/sighting!

TB: Can you please share an interesting fact about the wandering albatross?
BM: They can travel up to 10 000km on a single foraging chick for their chick.
They have the largest wingspan of any flying bird – ~3.5m from tip to tip.

TB: What tip can you share with us regarding spotting the wandering albatross?
BM: Obviously one would need to be out at sea on a pelagic birding trip (one such trip will be Flock at Sea 2017 – see BirdLife South Africa’s website for details) or alternatively book a trip with various operators in Cape Town and occasionally Durban.

TB: Where is your favourite birding place?
BM: My new or old birding locations. A highlight in my career was to be able to show people an albatross for the first time in their lives (on a previous Flock at Sea 2013) – seeing the excitement on their faces at seeing such an incredible, graceful bird (that I see regularly in comparison) just reminded me how lucky I am to do what I do daily.

TB: What’s it like working for a bird conservation NGO?
BM: Working for an NGO is always exciting – each day is different and can change very quickly! It is a mix of desk-based work and being out in the field – which is a dream job for many. I would say that although this is my job, it does not feel like it and is actually just a passion that I am able to live out! We are also able to work with all levels and types of people in this field- from CEOs to fishermen, children and members of the public.

TB:Lastly, what drives you?:
BM: I am an incredibly compassionate person and am driven by knowing there are issues in the world (whether environmental or social) that can be addressed. This is the reason I am in the conservation field and belong to a Rotary Club. I like to accept challenges and see the results of my efforts when results are achieved. I have an incredibly driven team with which I work which also urges me to push myself further. My motto is “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and believe that we should be living life to the fullest and making the most of every opportunity that crosses our path.

2008: MSc completed (with Distinction) in Ichthyology and Fisheries Science.
2010: BirdLife South Africa Annual Staff Award
2011: Marine and Coastal Communicator Award: Scientific Category (as part of a team)
2013: Top ten finalist in Future for Nature Award 2013 (
2014: Winner of the Future for Nature Award 2014
2014: Mail and Guardians Greening the Future Award (Green Technology Category) 2014 (as part of a team)
2014: Rotary Club of Constantia Presidential Recognition Award 2013-14. Served on the board of my Rotary Club for two years and 2015/16 with be Secretary at Constantia Rotary Club.
2015: Paul Harris Fellowship Award
Various presentations (poster and oral) at local and international conferences.

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